You probably think an unexplained phenomenon is a sinister event but it can be benign, welcome and surprising, that is, serendipitous. Most writers silently bless Horace Walpole and his Prince of Serendip for giving us a word for happy accidents. A few examples from my own career will elicit similar memories in other writers.
Several years ago I had a fellowship with the Mary Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, to research and write a play about Alice James. I was ready to begin my fist draft on American Thanksgiving Day when everything stopped for gratitude and turkey. I worked in my silent office until I felt an urgent need to consult Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice, s need easily satisfied on any day but that.
I was far away from my home library; the public libraries were closed; the bookstores were closed; no one was home, including my landlady. I entered my digs early, despairing of finding what I needed. When lo! There on the kitchen table was a boxed set: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Serendipity!
Why? When asked later, my landlady had no memory of putting it there.
The second incident also took place in Cambridge, MA. After finishing my fellowship, I went back to the Schlesinger Library (arguably the best repository of women’s studies in North America). I planned to begin research on a book about women’s diaries (subsequently published by Key Porter Books as Reading Between the Lines) by looking for essential reading material and wondering where to begin. When lo! There on a table in the main reading room was a huge bibliography of women’s diaries, left out by a careless student. Serendipity for sure.
Perhaps this phenomenon is guided by a force field in the writer’s mind, but how is it that one is receptive at that particular time in that particular place for a particular reason?
Serendipity, an unexplained phenomenon.
Betty Jane Wylie writes full-time – newspaper and magazine articles, columns, books, plays, poetry, screenplays, belles lettres, and lyrics for musicals. She is a founding member of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.